Monday, February 16, 2009

The Low Road

I don't know if you remember the halcyon days of EA and 2K Sports telling us that in-game advertising was going to make for a more "authentic" experience.

By "halcyon" I mean that's what they were obviously taking.

We all knew they were lying, obviously. It was totally idiotic for anyone to think that real advertisements in any way, shape, or form, was going to make anything more "authentic."

I remember the halcyon (and by "halcyon" I mean "happy, joyful, carefree") days of the parody advertisement. Baseball games had them all the time, and many of them were very clever, and it was entertaining. I even developed imaginary ad favorites over time.

Now, we've got this:
...what is of most concern is that 2K has added areas for ads that don’t actually exist in real life.

The most obvious example of this is Wrigley Field. A sign in center field has been inserted in order to get the State Farm advertisement in.

That's what we're getting this year with MLB2K9.

WTF? Sports stadiums are covered in advertising these days, but that's not enough for 2K Sports? They have to ADD new ad placements that don't even exist in the real stadiums?

Well done, asshats.

It you want to see just how shitty this looks, go here. See that gigantic State Farm ad just to the left of dead center field. There's no ad in that spot at Wrigley Field. Oh, and guess what--when you're batting, that ad is in your field of vision on every single pitch.

Welcome to the future.

They've also apparently altered dimensions of some stadiums (increasing the height of some outfield walls, for example), to put in more ads.

Even worse, 2K is doing this after MLB2K7 was, to put it politely, shit. Here's what I wrote last year:
MLB2K7 (360) is a superb early beta.

It was incredibly buggy, the framerate was terrible, and franchise mode was a joke. So after people pay $60 for an early beta, do we get rewarded this year with a resounding commitment to quality?

Not so much. We do get a resounding commitment to advertising, though.

I think we've all pretty much accepted at this point that 2K Sports doesn't finish sports games anymore. They work on a game until it's supposed to ship, and then it's out the door in whatever shape it happens to be in.

It's been an incredible four year decline.

In 2002-2003, Take Two Sports basically had the best version of every sports game they published. Football was still dicey, but one year, they released NFL2K5, which was arguably the best football experience ever released. In many ways, it's STILL better than Madden.

For some reason, though, development studios started getting replaced. Treyarch was taken off the hockey series (Kush replaced them). Blue Shift was taken off the baseball game (Kush replaced them, too).

Kush made games look prettier, but they, without exception, played worse. And they were always less finished, too.

Visual Concepts, though, was always the star developer. They developed both the NFL and NBA games, and in many ways, they really pushed the envelope. It's not they had the same kind of commitment to finishing their games that, say, Sony San Diego (The Show) does, but they made some great games.

Now? Hell, when was the last time a 2K Sports game was great? Even the NBA series, which was quite advanced in many ways, has taken several steps backwards. The tenth time you pass the basketball through a defensive player, you'll realize that something has gone very, very wrong.

In many ways, 2K has turned into Tiburon, Jr. They seem completely unable to figure out what really works from what doesn't, so their games really don't improve from year to year--they're just different.

In the case of the MLB series, it was never as good after Kush took over from Blue Shift. Yes, baserunning was always crap in the Blue Shift games, but there were also ways in which the game was years ahead of its time.

Hockey? Same thing. Kush took over from Treyarch and made the game much prettier and not nearly as realistic or playable.

As someone who was always a big fan of the 2K series of games, it's been tremendously disappointing to see them fade. And given the staff cuts they've made in the last few years, I don't see them turning it around.

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